Monday, 30 July 2007

#43 Magic Mask

I have a problem recalling products that I’ve used in the past. I rifle through thousands of packages a year and unless I make a note of each and every one, there’s the risk of dozens falling by the wayside and eventually dropping off my radar – into spare room, bottom drawer, kept out of sunlight oblivion. To combat this, several years ago I started carrying a notebook around with me and forced myself to write up the results of every product that I took the time to test – but the busier I became, the less I scribbled. The notebook – a pink Smythson one – reappeared last weekend during a belated spring-clean. I’d forgotten quite how disciplined I’d once been and was delighted to rediscover the skincare gems I’d discarded along the way. The eternal beauty ed. problem is that the minute a pot dries up or tube is sucked dry, there are twenty equivalent products on the desk to be tested – so it’s easier to swap old for new, rather than purchase another of the same. But, of course, it’s seriously flawed logic – if you find a great thing, you’re much better off sticking with it. So, scanning my scrawls, it cheered me to see a face mask I’d raved about, but had also managed to forget. Well, this is where I rectify the oversight. Körner Sparkle Brightly Renewal Mask. What a corker. I pulled this back out of the bag and have already used it twice – both after sleepless nights, when my skin had to look great. It really did the trick. It creates an evenness of tone, softness and brightness without any physical exfoliation being necessary – and despite having temperamental skin – the formula did not sting or irritate in the slightest. It’s as close to a ten as I’m ever going to give and, well, it feels good to have it back in my Körner.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

#42 Rose-Tinted Glass

I've always been a fan of the rose. From the water my mother rinsed her hands with to the syrup that my grandmother would use in her sponges, it fragrances some of my sweetest memories. Weleda Wild Rose Body Lotion landed on my desk today. It smelt the same as all the other natural/organic rose creams that I've smelt over the years (and there are several), but it was the texture that surprised me. It's thin and rather watery, but serves up deep, long-lasting hydration. A morning rubdown keeps skin soft till bedtime and it's particularly good on those back-of-arm bumps, that I ordinarily slather with buttery, gloopy creams - which I'll admit, tend to get rather sticky in the summer. There is, however, one big problem. The packaging is a complete pain in the arse (or arm, dependent on how long you have to carry it for). It's only 100ml, which for a body cream is pretty skimpy, but the thick, blue, glass bottle - recyclable though it may be - means you get little product with a lot of extraneous weight. Very frustrating as the product formula is ideal for holidays - combining as it does skin-healing rosehip, calendula and jojoba, but the packaging formula is a miscalculation - unless you'd like to stash a small, heavy and breakable bottle in your case? No, thought not. It's a shame and ultimately means that this summer-saviour will be left on the shelf and replaced with a larger, lighter and luggage-friendlier lotion. The search begins again.

Monday, 23 July 2007

#41 Cold Booster

When the sky’s starting to look like the coagulated skin on a cup of anaemic tea, it’s time to take action. Tongue-in-cheek, in the face of the rain, dancing in the streets type action – irrational and immature – and cheap drugstore make-up always does the trick. What caught my eye today? The Stargazer eyeshadows that have popped up in Urban Outfitters – it’s a cross between theatrical face paint and that plastic pretend make-up you could buy in kits in toyshops and fake-paint your doll’s face with. It’s great fun. Loud ‘n’ proud – but certainly not new. It’s been around since 1978, when it was first flogged on a market stall on the King’s Road and worn by all the secretly posh punks in the area. Nowadays, they’re based in Croydon – which, let’s face it – has scored more than its fair share of cool points over the years…

The colours are still hot and unapologetically synthetic – no bones, sandalwoods or whispers here – which, on a day like this, can’t help but make me smile. Other hot shots that have perked me up this week include Ruby + Millie Liquid Eye Colour in Metallic Gold, NARS Shimmer Eyeshadow in Party Monster and the beautylicious MAC Eyeshadow in Electric Eel – glory glory. They sure ain’t subtle, but then you can thank the black, boisterous heavens for that.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

#40 Sisley... Seriously?

A large part of my job is to attend press days, kiss the cheeks of PRs, nibble on crab cakes, sip champagne and nod my head enthusiastically when presented with the latest, groundbreaking, world-changing revolution in beauty... cue well-timed oohs and aahs and there we have it, job done. It's fantastic, it's fun and when it involves PRs with whom I have a real giggle, it doesn't feel like work at all.

Then, unfortunately, there are the events that leave a bitter taste in the mouth. The events where the presentations are embarassingly hyperbolic, insincere or at worst, factually incorrect. Now, you wouldn't expect this from the best brands. The brands that pride themselves on cutting edge research and consumer intelligence. There have been some howlers in the past, but none quite so insulting as the recent Sisley launch - for their new Sisleya Radiance Anti-Aging[sic] Concentrate. It all started well enough. It's another product that deals with pigmentation. It has had impressive results. A lot of research etc etc etc. Then my mind wandered. There were little sugary cupcakes on the table, each decorated with an icing 'S' - though no one actually ate any of them - but it was all very white and light and pretty. Then the problems started. The spiel was given - not by the wonderful PRs, of whom I think very highly - but by a lady within Sisley's own ranks, who is responsible for training or education or something along those lines. Now, this blog is not meant to shame or sully, so I shan't get into the particulars - but this lady's beliefs (which she stressed, were 100% scientifically proven) were, in the main, complete manure. She used an imprecise, unscientific and confused mix of terminology; she fluffed her explanation of SPF several times; she repeatedly stressed that an own-brand product provided 100% daily protection - and when probed, admitted, that didn't include protection from UVA or UVB and she finished on a glorious high note - by advising us to use the product for 'two entire months, TWO months, yes, 28 days - and you'll see a difference.'

The irony is that Sisley is a fine brand. It sells itself. It has thousands of faithful followers - many of whom are the savviest consumers on the planet - and they know a good thing when they see one... just as, it has to be said, beauty eds can sniff out a dud when they see it. The product? Great texture, nice smell, good ingredients. It's been handed over to Mama Malcontent and we'll see what the verdict is in, what? Two months? Two months - yes - 28 days time. What an education.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

#39 Clean Spleen

Not content with having jumpy hormones (yes, my blood test result showed a couple of anomalies), I found out yesterday that a couple of my other organs have also been plotting & picketing against me. A face reader looked deep into my eyes and told me that I was prone to a grumbling gut and sluggish spleen and told me to eat more hot food - with ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon - have a couple of colonics and start swallowing Psyllium husks every morning. Oh joy. Apparently this is the reason, once and for all, for my baffling breakouts. So not only am I taking pills to even out my hormones, along with wild blue/green algae for my skin, but now I also need to swap my morning cuppa for a couple of capsules chased with a pint of water. Even in summer, she said, it's essential for me to eat hot foods and to avoid too many salads, fresh fruits and uncooked vegetables. In one half-hour session, all that I held to be true about good nutrition was trashed by a woman with, it has to be said, skin so good that it was impossible to estimate her age.

I wanted to test the theory so consulted one of the many McKeith manuals. I bought them, like most people, when they were in a WH Smith's promotion and refer to them every now and again when I'm feeling a bit iffy. I don't subscribe to her 'miraculous' cure - I mean, she takes the most toxic living things in the country and makes them eat fruit & veg for two months and then... CAN YOU BELIEVE IT??... they manage to lose weight? I mean, it's hardly groundbreaking stuff, is it? Having said that, there's a lot of interesting information in her original book about the self-diagnosis of ailments and when I took a peek at the problems that had been pestering me... well, voila, there were the same words, clear as day. Forehead spots? Sluggish spleen and dodgy gut. Hot food and Psyllium husks. Well, that shut me up.

So it's only day two of this new regime. I've been skipping my customary cereal with ice-cold milk for breakfast and salad for lunch and already, I'm feeling, perhaps rather obviously, all warm inside. Hot porridge, hearty vegetable bake, carrot & coriander soup, chickpea curry... my meal planner is starting to resemble a McKeithathon. What's been most interesting is the fact that, because of my salad/fruit/veggie munching, I considered my diet to be the last possible cause of my problems. It took someone with far more insight and expertise to really make me see where I was going wrong and when I thought about it, yes, I did have a problem. I've always had a grumbly tumbly and suffered with various food intolerances. In reality, I wasn't regularly giving my body the correct, specific sustenance that it required. In just two days, things are feeling a lot better.

Now I'm going at it wholeheartedly, to see whether or not it's really my innards that are the problem and if, once they've had a good spring clean, the forehead spots will magically disappear - FOREVER. It's the ultimate test. It's not hormones (they've been dealt with), it's not skincare (Liz Earle is proving a treat) - it's, well, me. So, here's to a month of husks and hot food. Hopefully, it'll get to the, ahem, bottom of things and I won't even need those colonics... unlike those poor YAWYE participants who can't escape Gillian storming in to kick their butts into gear - or even worse, forcing a tube up it.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

#38 Spot the Difference

Your best friend will say things like, 'It's just a spot. I can't even see it. I promise you, if you hadn't pointed it out, I would never have noticed it.' So, how can it be the only thing that you are thinking about? You're supposed to be working and you're really torturing yourself with dark thoughts, such as, oh my god, I think it's growing. I can feel it. It's probably pulsating like a police siren. Why, why, why did I have to get a spot now - of all times - when I'm supposed to be photographed/go on a date/get married?!

I hear you. I've read your emails and sat, nodding, through most of them - those of you who have acne, those who simply suffer from the single beacon that pops up before the period and others who manage clear complexions for months at a time, only to be thwarted at the single most inopportune moment and retreat to their bedrooms for the rest of the week.

It's getting us down. It's enough to wreck our week. Serious enough to turn us from head-held-high-flyers into pavement-scanning lost souls. But, if there's one thing I've learnt about spots, it's that the less you worry about them, the better the situation gets. I get the odd rager on my forehead - almost always before my period - and have been reduced to tears in the past. The thing is, worrying, tapping, prodding, testing and attempting to squeeze these rude awakenings into oblivion is always the worst possible course of action. I've turned a tiny pinprick into a colossus in the past - simply because I could not bloody leave it alone.

I've learnt from my mistakes. I also decided, several months ago, to roadtest a few new skincare regimes in order to find one that nourished and calmed my changeable complexion. I was using spot-specific lines, having incorrectly surmised that, well, I get spots, so that's the main concern. An excellent Guinot facialist set me straight. My skin was not excessively oily - to the contrary - I had in fact been using products all over my face that my dry (and occassionally combination) skin was reacting badly to. I had tried Dr. Sebagh Breakout Foaming Cleanser - way too strong for me. Within three days, my skin was puckering from dryness as I just wasn't 'oily' enough to warrant the switch. I also used Bliss Steep Clean Cleansing Milk and Fabulous Foaming Face Wash. I liked them both - up to a point. After a couple of weeks, during which time I continued to get the odd spot - my skin became increasingly sensitive, as both formulas contain exfoliants (the former chemical, the latter mechanical) and I think a twice-a-day slough was, once again, too harsh a regime for my skin to take. The other odd thing was that, despite using an exfoliating cleanser twice a day, my skin didn't feel particularly smooth. In fact, I still felt that urge to exfoliate - with another product - at least twice a week in order to get a clear, smooth surface. I knew then, that nothing was working. I was dry, sometimes oily, occassionally spotty and my skin hadn't looked 'luminous' in weeks. So I went cold turkey. I cleared out the cabinet and started from scratch.

I felt, instinctively, as though my skin needed a break. As though it needed consistency. I knew it was time to stop chopping and changing the various components in my routine. So, I made the move to Liz Earle. I started using her famous Cleanse + Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser, followed with a dose of her Skin Repair Moisturiser for normal skin. Nothing else. I didn't even use the Instant Boost Skin Tonic at first, so determined was I to get back to basics. That first week my forehead and chin broke out with a vengeance. Angry, red, raised spots. I almost chucked the stuff into the bin. But I persevered - namely because the nourishing ingredients and essential oil-rich formulas began to make my skin feel far more comfortable. I'd been dodging oil for so long - convinced that it was the source of all my pimple problems - using oil-free moisturiser, cleanser and foundation, that nothing prepared me for my skin's eventual reaction. The first couple of days, yes, I looked a bit shiny. But then, things started to settle down. My dry hide drank up the cream and settled to calmness beneath the nourishing veil of cleanser I applied each morning and night. It felt good. I could cleanse and leave my skin for minutes before applying moisturiser - it wouldn't feel dry or irritated. As I'd assumed, the switch back to oil-containing, skin-hydrating formulas has made my skin settle. At present, I have one tiny spot - a pre-period one - on my forehead that didn't give me any bother at all. I have an action plan in place, of course, to deal with future twinges - here it is:

1. If I feel a painful throb beneath the skin's surface I roll on Liz Earle Spot On

2. If, by the next day, the throb has turned into a 'bump', I squeeze a thin layer of Dermalogica Medicated Clearing Gel onto it and leave overnight. This vacuums out any pore-clogs and reduces the life of the spot by a couple of days. It's also exfoliating - so if you're a resolute squeezer - it will help you pop the pimple with minimal effort.

3. I also keep Remede's Double Oxygenating Booster on standby. I've had some good results. Sometimes a dab of this has managed to stop a bump developing into a spot - but sometimes it hasn't. It's not the miracle cure it is marketed as, but as far as reducing the life of a spot goes, it's one of the best.

So there it is. Simple. Basic skincare routine. A spot-zapping strategy... oh, and lest I forget, a new gym regime that has taken my stress levels from sky-high to pelvic-floor low. Yes, my name is Miss Malcontent and I'm a gymgoer. I know, yaawwwwn. But, it's helping. Eyes brighter, skin clearer - all that feel-good malarkey. Simple, yes, but in this case, spot on.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

#37 Roses really smell like...

Last year I was sent a sample of the Sheerin O'Kho First Class Flight. Pleasing packaging, beautiful bottle, a slew of serious ingredients and a press release that wailed wonders about the all-natural scent - derived exclusively from essential oils. Now, the bottle sat in my samples drawer for upward of three months. Conditions were neither warm nor bright, so when I finally fished it out to give it a wee road test (before a week-long road trip), I almost gagged at the scent. There was something very very wrong. A sharp, sour smell - the sort that I associate with curdled milk. I sniffed again. I rubbed some on my hand to see if it dissipated on contact and quite the reverse happened. The smell lingered like (please forgive me), ahem, cat piss. I reached the only logical conclusion - the product must've gone off. Except, last week, I smelt a different product and had the exact same stomach lurching reaction. This time round, it came from Living Nature's Tinted Moisturiser. I've sniffed this product three times - three different bottles - and each time I'm overwhelmed by the smell. Cat piss. Cat piss. Cat piss. It's such a shame as I would happily have slathered this on - the colours and textures are beautiful. On the upside, the pong of the Living Nature product does fade with time - I subjected my right hand to it during this typing session, regularly re-sniffing to check for changes and by sniff 25, it had dramatically improved. But, I'm still averse to putting anything on my skin that smells bad, even for a second, as it has too dramatic, and negative, an effect on my mood.

These smells might be 'natural', stemming as they do from the innards of a variey of plants and flowers - but they are still unpleasant. Perhaps I've sniffed an odd batch, or I'm extraordinarily sensitive to the scent, but whatever the reason behind my reaction, their smells prohibit me from using them. Simple as.

Lest anyone has the same experience and decides to forgo the natural route in the future, I'd urge a bit of sniffing around first. is a good place to start, as all the skincare products on the site are naturally fragranced with essential oils and many of them smell sensational - Lavera and Trilogy are both nose- and skin-pleasing examples.

Monday, 2 July 2007

#36 Sister Act

I've just had the most self-indulgent weekend on record. I snoozed, watched movies, revisited my favourite novel, organised my magazines and managed to spend almost an entire 48 hours in just three rooms. Ordinarily, I'd have been climbing the walls, but there was something about the sodden streets and humid air that had me yearning for some quiet time – I think I uttered no more than twenty words in total as the hubby was work-tied all weekend. Last night's guilty pleasure was a re-run of Mean Girls – which, despite the tenth viewing, still has me howling with laughter in parts. It also got me thinking about The Plastics – the perfectly polished clique of girls at the movie's centre. Ironed hair, glossed pouts, airbrushed skin and hollow heads. It's hard to argue that the triumvirate's queen bee doesn't look good – even if she's full of matter so superficial (and artificial) that she'd give a bag of turkey twizzlers a run for their money. Her brand of beauty – the teen queen look – can be spotted every Saturday on most high streets around the country. I've always been intrigued by this look – knowing just how much intensive work goes into it. Clump-free lashes, flawless foundation (utterly unnecessary given their naturally peachy skin), pencilled arches and watermelon mouths… growing up, it was my sister, not me, who fitted into this category. She would set her alarm clock an hour before mine every morning, wash and blowdry her hair, spend thirty minutes perfecting her kohl-rimmed eyes and powdered face and skip breakfast as she was too busy tidying her brows. The routine gave her confidence – she was always a hit with the boys – whereas I found it irksome. I just wanted to roll out of bed, dab on some lip balm, pull my hair into a ponytail and go to school. The difference divided us for years. I could not see past her maquillage mask. She could not understand my naked face. At some point our paths crossed. I started to care about my skin. I read up on balms, creams, serums, gels and oils. I bought beauty magazines and earmarked the pages with good advice. Then, along with my first crush, came make-up – and, embarrassed as I am to admit it – it was my younger sister who guided my hand. She showed me how to pull an exaggerated smile and brush a pop of colour onto the part of the cheek that appears the most raised. She traced an expert line across my lids with Guerlain Terracotta Loose Powder Kohl Eyeliner – a seriously extravagant purchase for a 15 year old – but one that she uses to this day. She dabbed Shiseido Lipgloss in Champagne onto my lips and curled my lashes, before defining them with YSL mascara – I think it was Everlong. She introduced me to Juicy Tubes, Face Powder (jn a square box, decorated with the face of a geisha) and Bourjois blusher. As I evolved (or regressed – it is, I suppose, a judgement call) so too did our relationship. Funnily enough, the tables have now turned. She still knows her stuff, but with hundreds of new products launching every year, she loses track. I'm paid to be on the ball – and enjoy pointing her in the right direction and filling her bag with products whenever she pops over for a cuppa. She still pokes fun at me – the clueless, tomboyish, trainer-wearing big sister who has somehow managed to metamorphose into a 'real' girl… a real girl, who, occasionally, develops a penchant for the plastic.